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What Is the History of Calico Cats? Interesting Facts

Kathryn Copeland

By Kathryn Copeland

old calico cat

Calico cats are so well-known that they almost don’t need an introduction. But it may surprise you to learn that the Calico is not a breed but a coloration.

So, how did the Calico coloring thing come to be? There’s a bit of genetics and history behind it, and we explore it all here, so you can better understand how we were lucky enough to end up with these eye-catching cats!


What Exactly Are Calico Cats?

Calicos are a coat pattern. There is no such thing as a Calico breed, but there are many breeds that can sport the coloration. Persians, Maine Coons, and Japanese Bobtails are just a few breeds that can have a variety of different coat colors and patterns, including Calico.

Calicos cats are unmistakable! They are typically white with distinctive patches of black and orange of varying degrees. There are longhaired and shorthaired Calicos, as well as diluted Calicos (which are cats with gray and pale orange patches).

calico cat
Photo Credit: Loic Polet, Pixabay

The History of the Calico Cat

While Calicos aren’t a breed, their striking coat pattern had to come from somewhere. However, there’s a bit of mystery surrounding the origins. It’s believed that they originated in Egypt, and merchants would take cats on board their ships to keep the vermin away from the food stores. This is actually a common way that many breeds traveled from Europe to North America.

The Egyptian merchants would have taken all types of cats throughout the Mediterranean and to the major port cities, such as Spain, Italy, and France. Eventually, the Calico made it around the world.

Why Are Calicos Predominantly Female?

If you’re looking at a Calico cat, they’re more than likely a female. Male Calicos are extremely rare!

This is where genetics come into play:
  • The X chromosome is responsible for the Calico coloration.
  • XX chromosomes are needed for a kitten to have the Calico coloring.
  • When any cat has XX chromosomes, they are born female.
  • Male cats have XY chromosomes, making it almost impossible for a male to have Calico coloring.

However, on rare occasions, some cats are born with an extra X chromosome, which makes them XXY. This means the cat can be male and a Calico because of that double X part of the chromosome. Unfortunately, this also means that every male Calico cat has the feline version of Klinefelter syndrome, which causes sterility. Therefore, male Calicos cannot breed.

calico ragamuffin cat
Photo Credit: Daria.G, Shutterstock

Can You Breed a Calico Cat to Get a Calico Cat?

The short answer is no. What makes the Calico coloring is entirely by chance.

This is where genetics come into play again:
  • The X chromosome is responsible for orange and black fur.
  • A cat needs an X chromosome that carries the genetics for black coloring and an X chromosome that carries the genetics for orange coloring.
  • The cat with these two genes combined can produce a Calico kitten.

Not only do genetics influence a cat’s markings and color, but conditions in the womb can also affect the pattern of the kittens’ coats.

The Calico Temperament

For the most part, many cat lovers believe that the Calico is rather spunky and won’t put up with any of our foolishness. They are known to be quite independent, but they are also loving and sweet cats.

Considering that the Calico is a coat pattern and not a breed, though, it’s hard to say how accurate all this is. You’ll probably meet both sweet Calicos and grumpy ones.

Calicos and Tortoiseshells

Calico cats are quite distinctive, but they are sometimes confused with Tortoiseshells, also known as Torties. They both have similar coloring of black and orange fur. However, Torties are bicolored and tend to be predominantly black, with marbled bits of orange peeking out, and they typically don’t have any white fur. Calicos are tricolored and are usually white with more defined patches of black and orange.

But Torties are also predominantly female, and they tend to have the same sassy temperament as the Calico. Also, like the Calico, the Tortoiseshell is not a breed but a color pattern, and it is also seen among many purebred cats. It’s easy to see why the two patterns might sometimes be confused for each other.

Blind calico cat
Image Credit: Casey Elise Christopher, Shutterstock

The Lucky Calico

It shouldn’t be too surprising that the Calico is quite well-known worldwide. In fact, many countries consider Calicos to be lucky cats.

Given the rarity of the male Calico, they are considered to be especially lucky in the United States and England. They have even been called “money cats” in the U.S., as Calicos are believed to bring good fortune.

In Japan, the Maneki-Neko figurine is the “waving lucky cat” or “beckoning cat” figurine. It is often depicted as a Calico, specifically a Calico Japanese Bobtail with one paw held upright. It’s meant to bring fortune and good luck to its owner. It’s also said that Japanese sailors brought Calicos on board their ships to help ward off any misfortune.

There’s also folklore from Ireland that says that during the month of May, you can remove warts by rubbing them on a Calico’s tail.

The Famous Calico

Not only is the Calico considered a lucky cat, but some Calicos have also been lucky in a real way. First, there’s Tama, which was assigned the designation of Stationmaster at Kishi Station in Wakayama Prefecture in Japan. She actually saved the station from closing!

Then there’s the Calico that was elected the Mayor of Omena, Michigan. Sweet Tart is a Calico Norwegian Forest Cat, and she became mayor in 2021. It wasn’t much of a competition, though, as her opponents were a chicken and a goat!

The baseball team from Maryland, the Baltimore Orioles, wear black, orange, and white as their team colors, so Maryland adopted the Calico as the official state cat in 2021. The coloring of Calicos is also seen in Maryland’s state bird, the Baltimore oriole, and the state insect, the checkerspot butterfly.

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Calicos are like snowflakes—no two are alike. So, while we’ll never really know how the Calico originated, they are considered lucky cats all around the world. It could even be said that anyone who owns a Calico cat is lucky indeed!

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Featured Image Credit: Kristi Blokhin, Shutterstock

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